30 September 2012The darkness of the predawn made the lightning all the more brilliant. I sipped coffee and marveled at it’s beauty and power. Thunder rolled across the South Texas thorn brush, only visible briefly with each flash of lightning. I stood under the back deck roof of Knowlton’s Laguna Vista Ranch’s spacious and comfortable lodge; dry. After watching the lightning show for a few minutes I headed back in to pour myself a third cup of coffee. “Looks like the rain is about to hit, based on what they’re showing on tv and they’re giving us a strong possibility of raining all morning.” said Jed Knowlton with a smile on his face. I wondered if that smile was a big as mine. With the hope and now promise of our “thirsty” Brush Country getting some badly needed moisture neither he nor I could be any happier. If the rain meant sitting in the lodge because it was too wet for the camera. The wind started blowing hard from the north, then we could hear and see the rain. Both Jed and I were grinning from ear to ear... We watched it rain fairly hard for nearly 3 hours. We spent part of our time watching it rain, and the rest of the time seeing what adventures might appear on The Sportsman Channel which only not shown at the Laguna Vista Ranch lodge when someone switches briefly to the Weather Channel. When the rain finally quit, which we lamented, we gathered our gear and headed out into the brush in hopes of finding a mature whitetail. Although it was a bit early for South Texas whitetail bucks to respond to the sound of “rattled horns” we decided to give it a try anyway. Years past I have occasionally rattled up bucks in early November, soon as I found active scrapes. We drive then walked to an area near where the evening before we had seen several mature bucks. I settled in, did some grunts, a snort-wheeze, then started rattling my horns. I repeated the rattling sequence three more times, then waited an additional 20 minutes before I decided we needed to move on. We tried rattling a second place, near where we had found sign of a couple of scrapes, now nearly “washed out” by the recent rains. Nothing responded, so we headed back to camp for lunch, prepared by “Miss Cookie”, a young lady from western Texas who truly knows how to prepare camp cuisine at its finest! After eating enough to feed three or four “lesser statured people” I decided to double check the zero of my new Ruger rifle chambered in .30-06, topped with a Zeiss 3.5-10X Conquest scope and shooting Hornady 150 grain SST Interlock bullets. At the range just below the lodge I put three shot essentially into the same hole at 100 yards for a good solid rest. The rifle/scope/ammo were ready! Now it would be up to me. That afternoon we sat on the ground watching a food plot that was as much native vegetation that had a lot of native weeds thanks to a serendipitous rain about three weeks previous. We weren’t there long before a couple of does came out, then a really nice drop-tine buck with eight or nine upright points, a monstrous 8 point, and buck with long main beams and kicker points, a gorgeous 20 inch 10 point, and several younger bucks as well as does and fawns. I have to admit I was terribly tempted by the drop-tine buck. But he looked a bit on the young side. The are of Frio County, Texas we were hunting about half way between Uvalde and Pearsall, southwest of San Antonio has a reputation of producing drop-tine bucks. I had seen this years ago when as a biologist (first for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and later at a private wildlife management consultant). Drop-tine bucks happened quite regularly... I looked over several bucks that had I been hunting other ranches or other states would have been wearing my license tag back to camp and to the Laguna Vista’s cool room. I also knew the reputation of the Laguna Vista of producing really great South Texas whitetails. On top of that Jed had shown me several trail camera photos of some of the bucks that had been seen on the property. There were drop-tined bucks, large typical 10s, a couple typical 12s, several most interesting non-typicals and one buck that for whatever reason really flipped my switch, about a 21 inch wide, typical 11 point with massive beams, long browtines (another great characteristic of bucks in the area of the Laguna Vista) that both Jed and I agreed appeared to be at least 5 if not more years of age and one that looked like he might gross score a bit over 170 B&C points. Again the buck did it for me. I told Jed I wanted to hunt that buck to the exclusion of others. The next morning i nearly started questioning that decision. I hardly ever hunt from a raised established blind. “Larry, where we’ve seen the deer you’re interested in, is near a pond, where visibility is very limited, and if we set up close to where we got photos of the bucks coming to the supplemental feeder I doubt we’ll see anything at all. The wind simply is going to be all wrong to try to hunt from the ground... Reluctantly I agreed we should hunt from the raised blind. Shortly after first light we had several bucks around us, coming to water, but also to the scattering of shell corn Jed had put out to draw the deer out of the terribly dense, impenetrable (to humans) guajilla and blackbrush thickets. As it got light enough to truly see I almost questioned my decision to hunt only for the big typical 11 point when an extremely massive typical 12 point showed up...and if that wasn’t enough we also saw a 20 inch wide typical 10 with long brows, but also about a 5 inch drop-tine. I looked over at Jed who was seated in the blind with me. He smiled and whispered, “Hey it was your decision, not mine...but I will tell I think if you are so fortunate enough to get to see the big typical 11, you’ll be happy and not mind so much you passed up the drop-tine and the typical 12..” Uh huh.... Next morning we saw several other bucks, but not the big typical 11 point. That afternoon was a re-run of the morning... some great deer but not “the buck”. A bonus was seeing an all white (brilliant white) doe with brown eyes, nose and hoofs, the only grown all white whitetail I had ever seen in South Texas. In years past I had occasionally seen all white fawns, but they never survived because of our huge coyote and bobcat numbers, as well as mountain lions. More FABULOUS food prepared my “Ms. Cookie”.. A quick night in hunting camp, and next morning....again it rained. We stayed in camp. I paced most of the morning. “Not really used to staying in camp are you?” said Jed. I told him I hated staying in, and personally loved hunting in the rain, but it was not good for the camera....so we waited. After “Ms. Cookie’s” breakfast and lunch (each a fabulous meal) Jed and I again tried rattling, didn’t do any good, then headed to take a look at the 20+ exotic species they also have on the property but separated from where they hunt whitetails. I love seeing such exotic deer species as fallow deer, Axis deer, sika deer, baragsingha, Eld’s deer and numerous others. We didn’t find the muntjac or hog deer I hoped me might see (both species are fairly small and truly fascinate me). Some of the species on Laguna Vista Ranch can no longer be hunted in their native lands. So those on ranches such as Laguna Vista serve as potential brood stock and hopefully some day will be used to once again stock their native lands across the “whale ponds”. That afternoon we returned to the food plot where we hoped we would see “my” typical 11 point buck. As the afternoon progressed deer started feeding into the open, good mature bucks, does and fawns, young bucks, bucks that seriously made me question my “hunt the typical 11 point to the exclusion of others” statement and decision. I was weakening watching a big typical 10 with a couple of kickers. The sun had just slipped below the thorn brush...”Larry, two bucks to the far right... think one of them is your’s came the stage whisper from Jed. I slowly turned to look to the far right and there he was, the buck I had been looking for. No doubt he was a big as I thought he would be, if not ever bigger; Quickly I move my BOG Gear RLD sticks so I could make the rested shot. The crosshairs settled just behind the buck’s shoulder. “Better taken him he’s about to step into the brush..” whispered Jed once again. I was in position and a couple of heart beats later gently tugged the Ruger’s trigger. Before I could work the bolt I heard the bullet hit solidly, then “He’s hit hard right behind the shoulder, he won’t go far.” Then, “Let’s go find him before it gets too dark to see.” We found him dead about 20 steps into the dense brush from where i had shot him. At his side there was not doubt he was a great South Texas Brush Country buck, 11 typical points, a twelfth kicker point, massive beams and points...no question he would gross over 170. I was ecstatic to say the least. Patience had paid off. The next morning when I took my buck to the Los Cazadores Deer Contest they scored him at 175 3/8 gross B&C points. In retrospect looking back at some of the other bucks we saw, once we got my buck down, I passed up bigger bucks than what I took...but I could not be happier with my buck. But in realizing I had passed up bigger bucks it also made me want to go back to Knowlton’s Laguna Vista. Not only do they have fabulous hunting and big whitetails, they also have fabulous facilities, and with “Ms. Cookie” in charge of the kitchen..of my goodness! Then too, before leaving I started questioning Jed Knowlton about the possibility of returning also to hunt the mysterious and diminutive muntjac... If you’d like to learn more about hunting Laguna Vista Ranch go to www.lagunavistaranch.com. Hope to visit with you right here again next week.